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June 2013 Fargo Archive Pages

June 30

  • Drowning in words and images
    • In 1973, Pete Seeger seemed to predict the early 21st century, but he was just looking around his society when he wrote: “Americans are drowned in words. . . . We’re also drowned in pictures”. . .more information than we can use, more than we can make sense of, more than we can protect ourselves against. His brief essay turns immediately to a special case, “the independent graphic artist,” a painter, say, who would have provided the wealthy with something to hang on the wall. The figure of this artist serves to sharpen a hopeful contrast.
    • For Seeger, there was underway a contrasting revival of traditional open-air murals, by which artists great and modest communicate directly with the people who live around them. Not hidden away in the houses of the rich, not guarded by museum and university experts, street murals “fill a need for communication between all people.” There is an opportunity for honesty and independence that can break the silence with “ideas which will not be said by our politicians–ideas which need to be explored in public.” Something real is at stake, then.
    • For one thing, by painting in public spaces, artists remind fellow citizens that “we are not 100 percent at the mercy of the media.” Communicating on their own, independent from the houses of commerce, freed of those venues’ predictable formulations, and more free in general to speak, people will begin to remake the world according to their own needs and values, Seeger said. For him, the people’s values are fundamental and far-reaching: “We are going to unite for peace, freedom, jobs for all, and a clean, unpolluted world to share.” No narrow focus on commerce there.
    • As the tiny essay closes, Seeger anticipates a doubting reader’s question: “How will this come about? The murals will tell the story. You don’t believe me? Keep your eyes open.”
    • That last little bit matters, because he means that the process of social change is exploratory. It involves clarifying basic values together, in public, and it includes affiliation and action. It’s a process that has a better chance using public media of wide circulation and participation. The painting on the wall of the millionaire’s study won’t do it; media broadcast to the passive millions won’t do it either. Murals aren’t just records of the time or bursts of expression, then. They are part of the process of social change. The same must be true of social media today.
    • Pete Seeger’s small essay is the forward for a 1973 book called Mural Manual, which had chapters on every aspect of producing street art formed the body of the manual. Citizens need comparable skills–perhaps a comparable manual?–for the speaking and writing tools of active citizenship today, for all the reasons which Seeger mentioned when he spoke about art.

June 29

  • Tidy contents page
    • Dave Winer mentioned somewhere, I think, that the Fargo table of contents page will rarely be looked at by readers, and so a person doesn’t need to think very hard about making it pretty. But I have noticed that it’s not hard to make it look sharp anyway.
    • 1. Using the collapse/true attribute, you can easily make sure that items on the contents page are tidy when a visitor arrives.
    • 2. Keep any postings that aren’t confined to the calendar area in a node/folder of their own. I have a “Main pages” collection for undated postings, for example. The same goes for presentations. Collapse those folders or leave the most recent items in view; put older items in a node/subfolder called “Older” or something like that.
    • 3. Throwing a # in front of anything you don’t want wanderers to bump into will keep those lines private. For example, I have a small utilities outline on the page, where I keep links/notes for any Fargo technique that I don’t want to have to search for again, and the # keeps that loose collection private.
    • So just using the Fargo tools already in place, the table of contents page looks professional and handy, I think. Here is mine.

June 28

  • Introducing categories
    • Andy DeSoto’s got a very handy posting about using the Fargo glossary function to provide fast links to reference material that he refers to frequently in his work. This feels like the beginning of a tag or category function for Fargo.
    • I noticed an old blog entry the other day about creating a reference page in which the writer’s main tags or categories, the writer’s main obsessions, are each introduced in a brief paragraph.
    • It’s a way of letting newcomers know where the writer is taking them, maybe, as well as a way for a writer to see how clearly the great obsessions of the project can (currently) be expressed.

June 27

  • Structuring “evergreen” material in Fargo
    • A posting published outside the calendar structure can have the virtue of not sliding away when later posts come in. This kind of posting would be easy to spot in the site’s TOC, for one thing. This would be a way to publish “about” or other “evergreen” material that you always want near the surface of a site, I believe.

June 26

  • 140 & Fargo
    • I’m guessing that someday my work at 140 characters above sea level will also be captured here, so I’m doing a little preliminary experimenting with format.

June 25

  • They almost invented Twitter
    • To understand social media, it helps to think about how people lived before. So, a story:
    • This true story begins simply enough. The couple, Elise and Otto Hampel, lost a family member serving in a war they did not believe in, a war of conquest. They could not explain away or justify his death. In their grief, they looked for a way to protest, but they had no political skills or alliances, no say in the workings of their country. Even though they lived in the capital city, their government was out of reach; Elise and Otto might as well have been mute. And to make matters worse, this was Nazi Germany, one of history’s most brutal dictatorships. They knew the consequences of opposing Hitler.
    • And yet there in Berlin, in the midst of war and tyranny, they hit upon a mechanism for protest. They began to print messages on postcards, no more than a couple of dozen words on each card, in large block lettering, denouncing the dictatorship. Over many months, Otto left these little messages, each one about the size of a Twitter posting, in public places around the city. Frightened citizens or patriots turned the cards over to the police. Eventually the Gestapo, the secret police, took up the case.
    • This story is told as fiction in the recently-translated 1947 novel, Every Man Dies Alone, by German writer Hans Fallada.* But the book’s appendix offers pages from Otto and Elise’s real Gestapo files. You can see the couple’s stern mug shots, taken after their arrest, the typed confessions they signed after interrogation and, likely, torture, and Otto’s own handwriting on a few of the postcards themselves. Der Hitler Krieg ist dess Arbeiters Tod, he writes. Hitler’s war is the workers’ death. Seventy years ago this spring, the Hampels were convicted of treason and beheaded in a German prison. If their police files had not come into the hands of the novelist, most likely their story would have been lost.
    • Fallada’s novel is suspenseful and chilling. Written just months after the war, Every Man Dies Alone is thick with details that hint at the every day, every minute terror of Nazi tyranny. But those self-composed faces in the mug shots and the bold script on the postcards get at something that can outlast terror, something that tyranny seeks to eradicate. And that is the sound of a dissenting voice. The beauty of the novel and its appendix is in large part that in the direst of circumstances there is someone who intends to keep speaking.
    • But Fallada considered how little these brief messages probably accomplished amidst the chaos of world war. Full of doubt, he raises the question explicitly in a stunning passage—but to say much more about that late chapter would ruin a portion of the novel for you. Imagine the issue yourself: Elise and Otto invented something like Twitter, little messages that they hoped would matter, and sent them out into the world that was not ready to receive them.
    • Commitment, reflection, writing meant for a public audience–traits that cover a good portion of what we now call social media–produce messages that need somewhere to land. They need a social structure that welcomes and thrives on commitment. The authors of these little messages need a civic and social world to bond to. Reflection, writing, publishing, creating bonds in a functioning civic society, and taking action as a result–the Hampels had no chance to accomplish the fourth and fifth of these steps. There was no functioning civic society to receive them.
    • Their bravery is indisputable. The justice of their position is undeniable. Their example still shines for us. But their story shows that a citizen needs more than a space for reflection and the courage to speak. Next time I will turn to another historical episode where hopes were pinned on tiny messages, this time Twitter messages submitted into the noise and static of the Internet. This next story will help clarify what else besides a citizen’s thoughtful bravery a society needs.
    • This post follows up on issues raised in the “Disenchantment, democracy, and blogging” post.
    • *Hans Fallada, Every Man Dies Alone, trans. Michael Hofmann (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2009).

June 24

  • Disenchantment, democracy, and blogging
    • Why are people so disenchanted with their democracy? Lots of reasons, but over a cup of coffee with a friend I might sketch the troubling model of citizenship I often see around me. My story would go something like this:
    • Certain kinds of citizens are essentially silent. They vote, or they don’t vote, but otherwise they keep mum. In school they learned a misleadingly rosy and general lesson about how democracy works. Accordingly, they haven’t built public speaking or writing skills and don’t know how to find a regular civic audience. They don’t belong to organizations that help them rise in public to work on an issue. The news they receive is poisoned by partisanship and by gutless journalism that doesn’t dare take a stand, so they doubt their own understanding of the country or they are reduced to polar generalities that don’t explain much. In despair, indifference, cynicism, or fear, they turn to their private lives, where they work and consume entertainments and where, by their silence, they essentially write themselves out of the democracy.*
    • Their silence is a blessing to the big players who like having free rein in the marketplace and in civic life. And these quiet citizens, understandably, don’t know what to do about it. Who can blame them? And who can blame powerful people for loving to see quiet citizens remain exactly as they are?
    • But blogging reveals a more interesting model of citizenship; prominent bloggers realized this and wrote enthusiastically about it, especially in the heady early years.** But nobody managed to change the world while typing away in a bathrobe, and our easily bored society, thinking it has sucked all the marrow out of that particular bone, has moved on. Why look back? Blogging is over.
    • [Time for a second cup of coffee by now, and I’m buying, since you are too good a friend to up and leave just because I won’t stop talking about blogging.]
    • Why look back, you ask? Here’s why. Because the experience of blogging hints at good things that might someday come. Because people who have had that experience advance toward the messy world instead of backing away from it. Because the experience of blogging has hope and responsibility and adulthood wrapped up in its DNA, and in our dumbed-down and younged-up society it feels good to act like an adult.
    • I’m not talking about telling everyone about your life on social media, and I’m not necessarily talking about political blogging either. I’m talking about the way a blogger lives, how a blogger reads and thinks, and how a blogger takes other people seriously through reading and writing with them.
    • But first you have to get that blogging is not the same as a blog. If when I say “blogging” you are only thinking of the posts, you are not a blogger. Blogging is not the posts that slide down the screen on your laptop.
    • The posts are just the places where blogging puts its feet down for a moment as it walks along. Blogging is the motion of a writer through experience of self, events, text, and audience. It’s a self-observation, a self-recording, and an engagement with experience and with others, all tracked and promoted and provoked further along its way with texts that are the traces. Blogging is a way of life; it’s a reflective practice that casts off texts as it goes. Because it keeps tossing out these texts, others can play along.
    • A writer who lives as a blogger lives feels pretty good, even in bad times, because this is a way of being more alive. Still, I can see that you are about done here. You don’t want any more coffee and you have the counter-example in your head. What about the bathrobe bloggers who haven’t changed the world? Or, better yet, what about the social media heroes who have helped overthrow a corrupt government only to find that the next government was its moral twin? You want to ask: Isn’t it time to be done dreaming hopefully about blogging?
    • Those are the right questions when a friend you care about won’t stop talking about blogging. Hopefully, the friend has a good answer. Because I’ve tried your patience in this long posting, I hope you will return someday to consider my answer.
    • That answer involves a story or two. There will be corrupt corporations and principled journalists, heroic citizens and vigilant bloggers in this story. Government institutions get challenged; people’s lives are at stake; the quality of democracy is too. As you might guess, that first kind of citizen is not involved. Stay tuned for the next episode.
    • *This description is based on an earlier blog post.
    • **For example, see this important essay by Tim Dunlop.
    • ***This too is based on the final section of an earlier blog post.

June 23

  • Blogging is not one thing
    • But for some, blogging is a reflective practice that casts off texts as it goes.
    • It’s clear by now that blogging is not a single form of writing–not a single genre. A blog begins as a piece of publishing software, with a few basic traits that make it easy to set up a web site where regular postings appear in reverse chronological order in the main column. The ease of publishing, the reverse chronological order, and a few other web and software traits help writers establish a readership. The various genres of blogging arise out of the neutral space created by the publishing software, the urgencies of an author’s life, and the influence that audience and contemporary events add to the mix. There is no single genre as simple as the one term, blogging. See, for example, this sentence from Jay Rosen’s profile note on Twitter:
    • I don’t do lifecasting but mindcasting on Twitter.
    • Here Rosen announces the genre choice he makes as a blogger, a choice he elaborates on elsewhere, I recall, when he recommends that a writer focus on one issue or topic. He works on the topic of journalism, especially on the changes required for journalists to meet the current crisis and evolve a new form or forms. He doesn’t tell us what he had for lunch or whether he’s about to call it a day. No lifecasting — instead, he tracks his observations and engages others who care about the same subject matter.
    • Enough people choose lifecasting, and in fact choose an alarmingly personal version of lifecasting, to give passers-by the impression that blogging is the one genre. Or maybe there is a second genre, the political blog, and readers spot the two kinds and feel they’ve got it figured out. The mistake here is not just thinking that there are only one or two approaches, but also in thinking that the written posts are blogging.
    • They are not, or not entirely.
    • The posts are the places where blogging puts its feet down for a moment as it walks along. Blogging is the motion of writer through experience of self, events, text, and audience. It’s a self-observation, a self-recording, and an engagement with experience and with others, all tracked and promoted and provoked further along its way with texts that are the traces. Blogging is a reflective practice that casts off texts as it goes.

June 22

  • The aging of the young (audio)
    • I pulled back the curtain and looked outside. In the yard our two children were talking to each other and playing. One child was sitting on the wooden plank seat of the swing I hung from a low branch of the maple tree some years ago on a bright June morning that was, by chance, Father’s Day. The other child was working a hula hoop around her torso in lazy circles. It was a timeless sort of dusk, with the sky coloring sweetly and our children playing in the yard and the mild air of May breathing over us all. But stop squinting, I said to myself, and look more closely. The one on the swing is getting mail now from colleges that would like us to send them big piles of money. The one being orbited by a hula hoop is just back from university with one year down and three to go. If they haven’t reached the end of their childhood right now, at this very minute, then surely it is scheduled for sometime early next week.
    • Things used to be simpler when the children were still plainly children. You knew what to call them. They were the children, or the kids, or you could use their names if you wanted them to have some more happy childhood memories. Now they are adults, or something like adults, maybe new adults, or near adults, or something–who knows what they are, exactly. In the old days, if I looked out the window in the dusk of the evening, it might be my job to call them in for their bath. I haven’t had a say in the scheduling of their bathing for a good number of years. Around the bathroom sink there rests a great jumble of products and implements designed for the creation and renovation of one’s personal appearance. Those didn’t used to be there. Tossed down like a game of pickup sticks are six toothbrushes for a household of four people. This doesn’t count my toothbrush, which is tucked away in a cabinet.
    • Consider the coffee pot. When these children were children instead of new or near adults, in the morning a half-awake parent could direct a hand outward toward the coffee machine pretty sure that the hand would return with that cup of dark hot caffeine necessary for taking the fuzz off. Now you never can tell. The near adult might have grabbed a tall travel cup and headed out the door for school. At this hour, cup in hand, the new adult might inexplicably be up instead of sleeping. It could happen! And so the coffee pot might already be empty. An early-morning dim-headed pondering of essential questions, such as Where’s my coffee? is now a real possibility. All the old certainties are thrown up in the air when you live with new and near adults.
    • These fascinating creatures don’t require a ride everywhere. They can drive. They can pick up a few things for you at the grocery store. They can put their own dishes in the dishwasher. Well, no, they don’t seem to be able to do that, not without intervention from Didjadewityet, the ancient Aztec god of nagging.
    • Now the tiny LED lights have been switched on and the hula hoop glows with a changing, pulsing rainbow of neon colors. Circles of light rise and fall, tilt and twirl, around this mysterious hooping figure in the dark. Conversation continues between the two of them. They are each other’s confidante. They don’t run into the arms of a parent weeping anymore. If strong emotions are expressed, and they might be, those emotions are coiled and joined DNA-like to a rigorous critique of society of the kind we middle-aged folks rarely have time and energy to make. God bless our new and near adults for that. Seriously.
    • Without pause, the neon hoop orbits under the spell of its dark master. I suspect the new and near adults are plotting adventures that will take them from the still waters of their home port. To myself I say, Sail on, you voyagers. We will set a place for you at the table any time. You can come back and tell us your best stories. Maybe you will invite the gray elders along on one or two of your travels.
    • This Michiana Chronicles essay was broadcast by NPR affiliate 88.1 WVPE on May 31, 2013.

June 21

  • Trees along the river
    • Decades ago a few people in South Bend realized that our St. Joseph river was a great natural asset, a thing of beauty, but that it was hardly being used in ways that took advantage of its natural beauty. After World War I, plans were made to change that.
    • In the years since then, progress has been made at times and the river has come more to the fore of city life, but the potential is still greater than the accomplishment. That’s where the “Trees along the river” idea comes in. Also maybe known someday as the Saint Joseph River masterpiece.
    • The short version: find 250 local donors who will contribute the cost of planting one native, spring-flowering tree along the river each year for five years. In a decade the area would be well on its way to becoming a springtime masterpiece. The bike path along the river would be a wonder for several weeks each year.

June 20

  • Silence of the citizen
    • Silence is the basic mode of a citizen, largely unallied with others, having no regular civic audience, skilled in no form of public address, possessing no reliable stream of information or one so contested and poisoned and vexed as to be more problem than aid, susceptible to cynicism or despair or indifference or fear every moment that is not spent laboring or consuming entertainment or tending the beautiful or bare walled garden of the private life.
    • PS. I mentioned this idea to a friend and he said that people do end up this way. This was very interesting to me, as I had thought that this was a starting point for many people in a society that doesn’t really train for active citizenship.

June 19

  • Learning how to place images in Fargo
    • This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around!
    • This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around!
    • This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around!
    • This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around!
    • A picture named arrows.gifThis is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around!
    • RSSinSemaphore.jpgThis is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around!
    • This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around! This is a dummy text. It will stand as the background for the experiment in placing images in Fargo. Sorry to have drawn you here by accident. Apologies all around!
  • Ken Smith
    • Writing and social media
    • I blog about the writing of active citizenship, especially touching upon general and online literacy, ways of building and coordinating activism through public speaking and writing, and ways of teaching writing.
    • Dozens of regional public radio pieces about life in the American heartland, broadcast on WVPE’s Michiana Chronicles series since 2001.
    • Elsewhere, I used to blog about weblogs in higher education about a decade ago–just under 1400 posts there.
    • Appearing as @KenSmith on Twitter, too. And Facebook? Sure.
    • Contact, old-style
    • Department of English, 3123 Wiekamp Hall
    • Indiana University South Bend ~ 1700 Mishawaka Avenue
    • South Bend, IN 46634-7111
    • 574-520-4173
  • Projects
    • Writing and social media
    • I blog about the writing of active citizenship, especially touching upon general and online literacy, ways of building and coordinating activism through public speaking and writing, and ways of teaching writing.
    • Dozens of regional public radio pieces about life in the American heartland, broadcast on WVPE’s Michiana Chronicles series since 2001.
    • Elsewhere, I used to blog about weblogs in higher education about a decade ago–just under 1400 posts there.
    • Appearing as @KenSmith on Twitter, too. And Facebook? Sure.
  • Contact
    • ksmith at-sign iusb dot-mark edu
    • Department of English, 3123 Wiekamp Hall
    • Indiana University South Bend ~ 1700 Mishawaka Avenue
    • South Bend, IN 46634-7111
    • 574-520-4173
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